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MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State preparing for physical best-of-3 with Bowling Green

The Falcons are renowned – or notorious – for their aggressiveness on the ice. And with a berth in the CCHA semifinals on the line this weekend at the Sanford Center, the Beavers better be ready to match BGSU’s intensity, or they could be slashed right out of the conference playoffs.

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Bemidji State senior Alex Ierullo (14) scores in the first period against St. Thomas on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — When the Bemidji State men’s hockey team plays Bowling Green, you can count on lots of one thing – physicality.

The Falcons are renowned – or notorious – for their aggressiveness on the ice. And with a berth in the CCHA semifinals on the line this weekend at the Sanford Center, the Beavers better be ready to match BGSU’s intensity, or they could be slashed right out of the conference playoffs.

“It's going be a battle,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “There's just such a fine line, and winning’s not easy.”

The matchup will pair third-seeded Bemidji State and sixth-seeded Bowling Green in the quarterfinal matchup. But despite the apparent separation, the two teams split their season series and finished just nine points apart in the final league standings.

“That's how tight things are going to be,” Serratore said. “That's first-round hockey typically, especially when you have a three-six matchup like we have.”

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Bowling Green’s rough and tumble style isn’t the only thing that presents challenges – the Falcons (14-17-3, 11-14-1 CCHA) have the size to back it up.

“It's going to be really tough,” senior forward Owen Sillinger said. “They're a great hockey club. They're big. They play physical, they play in your face, they play hard. So it's going to be a great test for us, and we're excited.”

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Bemidji State senior Owen Sillinger (12) celebrates after scoring in the second period against St. Thomas on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

The series will feature a different dynamic from the two-game series Bemidji State (16-18, 14-12 CCHA) has played all year. In a best of three, one loss does not disqualify a team from winning the series. But each game is still critically important, and players must balance a sense of urgency with preparation to play on three consecutive days – something they have not done all season.

“It's kind of the same mindset for both teams,” Serratore said. “You better not overplay your guys in game one. You’ve still got to win it. But there's certain things you’ve got to do. You’ve got to take short shifts. There's just a lot of things, and you just have to manage things a little differently.”

One luxury that BSU has on its side is a wealth of players who have played in high-level collegiate tournaments before. Most of the roster has experienced the crucible of an NCAA Regional – in the midst of a global pandemic, no less – so the CCHA quarterfinals should not be too grand a stage.

“I think it just comes down to playing smart,” senior forward Alex Ierullo said. “Managing the puck, reloading hard, making smart decisions. No turnovers at the blue lines, at the red lines. It comes down to work ethic, it comes down to working hard. You’ve just got to want it more than the other team. So it should be fun.”

For the Beavers’ seniors, it could be their last games in a BSU uniform – unless they win the series and extend their season for another week.

“It's game on,” Ierullo said. “There's no tomorrow, really. It starts with the way we prepare for this upcoming weekend. I'm excited. I know all the guys are excited, coaches are excited and hopefully we can do something special here for our fans.”

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Bemidji State will open the series with the Falcons at 7:07 p.m. on Friday, March 4. The second game will commence at 6:07 p.m. on Saturday, March 5, and, if necessary, the third game will be played at 5:07 p.m. on Sunday, March 6.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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